Main Engine Cut Off

Charges Against ARCA CEO Dumitru Popescu Dropped

Diana Alba Soular for the Las Cruces Sun News:

State prosecutors on Monday dropped 18 criminal charges against the CEO of a space technology company based in Doña Ana County

ARCA Space Corporation CEO Dumitru Popescu had been facing a series of fraud, securities fraud and embezzlement charges.

But Monday, Benjamin Schrope, special assistant district attorney with the state securities division, filed a brief notice in 3rd Judicial District Court in Las Cruces to dismiss the case.

That happened after a state grand jury heard last week declined to indict Popescu after hearing 14 hours of testimony in two separate sessions.

And the craziest bit about the grand jury hearing:

While presenting to the grand jury, Popescu represented himself legally. He said he "fired" his most-recent attorney about three weeks ago after he was dissatisfied with the legal representation he was receiving.

A few weeks ago, I was wondering where the whole ARCA situation had gotten to, and fell down quite a rabbit hole starting with this 12-minute monologue video in which Popescu details his side of the story.

The story is so complex that I had never spent too much time trying to work through the details, but this lay-it-all-out video (and the long ones that follow) opened my mind to the fact that Popescu might really be telling the truth here—that this situation was some sort of an attempted coup with some very suspect governmental involvement.

Honestly, I still have no idea what to make of it, but Popescu defended himself in front of a grand jury for 14 hours and they agreed with his case. Let’s see where ARCA goes from here:

At the time the charges were filed last fall, ARCA had been about two weeks from launching a test rocket from Spaceport America, according to Popescu. The criminal case stalled progress. Now, the company plans to carry out the rocket test in Europe. After that, it's likely the company will launch a test of a second rocket system from NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Count me in for a trip to Wallops to see that flight, if it happens.

T+82: Jon Goff, Altius Space Machines

Jon Goff of Altius Space Machines joins me to talk about how he got to where he is today and what’s ahead for Altius—including satellite servicing with Bulldog, propellant depots, cryo couplers, and wet labs.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 31 executive producers—Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, Chris, Warren, Bob, Brian, Russell, John, Moritz, Tyler, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Barbara, and six anonymous—and 161 other supporters on Patreon.

T+81: Resource Prospector Cancellation

Last week, we heard news that the Resource Prospector mission has been cancelled. I spend some time thinking through my initial reactions to the news, and speculate about what the path ahead may hold for lunar development.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 31 executive producers—Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, Chris, Warren, Bob, Brian, Russell, John, Moritz, Tyler, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Barbara, and six anonymous—and 161 other supporters on Patreon.

Thanks to April Patrons

Very special thanks to the 192 of you out there supporting Main Engine Cut Off on Patreon for the month of April. Your support keeps this blog and podcast going, and most importantly, it keeps it independent.

And a huge thanks to the 31 executive producers of Main Engine Cut Off: Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, Chris, Warren, Bob, Brian, Russell, John, Moritz, Tyler, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Barbara, and six anonymous executive producers. I could not do this without your support, and I am extremely grateful for it.

There are some great perks for those supporting on Patreon, too. At $3 a month, you get access to the MECO Headlines podcast feed—every Friday, I run through the headlines of the week and discuss the stories that didn’t make it into the main show. And at $5 a month, you’ll get advance notice of guest appearances with the ability to contribute questions and topics to the show, and you get access to the Off-Nominal Discord—a place to hang out and discuss all things space.

If you want to get in on some of these perks, of if you’re getting some value out of what I do here and just want to send a little value back to help support Main Engine Cut Off, head over to Patreon and do it there.

There are other ways to help support, too: head over to the shop and buy yourself a shirt or a pair of Rocket Socks, tell a friend, or post a link to something I’m writing or talking about on Twitter or in your favorite subreddit. Spreading the word is an immense help to an independent creator like myself.

Strategic Forces Subcommittee Pushes for Air Force Program Focused on Next-Generation Upper Stages

Sandra Erwin, for SpaceNews:

Rogers and Cooper also want more information on what the Air Force is doing to develop launch vehicle upper stages to be used for the defense of U.S. space assets. “Advanced upper stages could increase the operational flexibility and on-orbit reusability of the holistic launch system while also allowing for greater delivery of mass to orbit,” says the bill. It asks the Air Force to provide a briefing on “next generation upper stage technology.”

This language is surely the byproduct of ULA lobbying for funding that can be used for Centaur V and ACES, but I would absolutely support a program focused on upper stages.

That said, I would be very disappointed if the definition of “upper stages” was limited to traditional stages like Centaur and not inclusive of things that push the future forward, like SpaceX’s BFS.

Falcon 9 Turnaround

Chris Gebhardt, for NASASpaceflight, on SpaceX’s busy May, including Block 5’s debut, and this feat, as part of the Iridium NEXT-6/GRACE-FO mission:

The mission will use core B1043.2, a booster previously used to launch the much-discussed Zuma mission from Cape Canaveral, FL, in January.

At four-months 20 days between Zuma and Iridium NEXT-6/GRACE-FO, this will be the fastest Falcon 9 first stage turnaround between flights to date.

T+80: DARPA Launch Challenge

The DARPA Launch Challenge has been officially unveiled, so I spent some time breaking down the competition and speculating about who will enter and what DARPA wants out of it.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 30 executive producers—Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, Chris, Warren, Bob, Brian, Russell, John, Moritz, Tyler, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, and six anonymous—and 158 other supporters on Patreon.

BE-4 Updates

Alan Boyle, for GeekWire, with a handful of BE-4 updates, including some behind-the-scenes insight on ULA’s decision:

Now Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith says the BE-4 has passed all of the technical tests required for ULA to sign onto a production contract.

“We’ve met the technical and performance requirements that they’re looking for,” Smith told GeekWire today during a one-on-one interview at the 34th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs. “And so we’re just working through how do we actually get to a production deal. We’re working through terms and conditions, termination liability, all of the things you’d want within a contractual structure.”

Smith said there’s been good interaction with ULA on the technical side of the BE-4 test-firing process. “At this point, we think it’s just, how do we get to the commercial production deal?” he said.

That sounds promising.

And some insight on last year’s testing issue:

The road hasn’t always been smooth: Last May, Bezos reported that an engine powerpack was lost during a round of testing at Blue Origin’s West Texas facility.

Smith said Blue Origin learned lessons from that setback. “We incorporated a lot of changes associated with how do we deal with foreign object debris,” Smith said.

We hadn’t heard any details whatsoever about that issue before this—and it’s still not clear exactly what happened—but the mention of foreign object debris is worth noting.

All in all, it sounds like BE-4 is in a good spot, and multiple reports say that it should be formally qualified by the end of the year.

OA-9E Cygnus Might Reboost ISS

Chris Gebhardt, for NASASpaceflight, on a very cool aspect of the upcoming OA-9E mission:

Moreover, and quite excitingly, the OA-9E Cygnus might be the first U.S. commercial vehicle to reboost the orbit of the International Space Station.  Speaking to the NASA Advisory Council last month, Ms. Gatens related that there is a potential Detailed Test Objective (DTO) in work for OA-9E to use Cygnus’ thrusters to perform an ISS reboost.

If the DTO is approved and executed, Cygnus will become the first U.S. spacecraft to perform a reboost of the ISS since the Space Shuttle fleet was retired seven years ago.

T+79: Orbital ATK’s OmegA, NASA’s Bridenstine

Orbital ATK unveiled the name and additional technical details of their new launch vehicle, OmegA. Jim Bridenstine was finally confirmed as the new NASA Administrator.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 29 executive producers—Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, Chris, Warren, Bob, Brian, Russell, John, Moritz, Tyler, Joel, Jan, David, and six anonymous—and 157 other supporters on Patreon.